Using Principal Component Analysis to Compare the Physical Qualities Between Academy and International Youth Rugby League Players

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: To compare the physical qualities between academy and international youth rugby league (RL) players using principal component analysis. Methods: Six hundred fifty-four males (age = 16.7 [1.4] y; height = 178.4 [13.3] cm; body mass = 82.2 [14.5] kg) from 11 English RL academies participated in this study. Participants completed anthropometric, power (countermovement jump), strength (isometric midthigh pull; IMTP), speed (10 and 40 m speed), and aerobic endurance (prone Yo-Yo IR1) assessments. Principal component analysis was conducted on all physical quality measures. A 1-way analysis of variance with effect sizes was performed on 2 principal components (PCs) to identify differences between academy and international backs, forwards, and pivots at under 16 and 18 age groups. Results: Physical quality measures were reduced to 2 PCs explaining 69.4% of variance. The first PC (35.3%) was influenced by maximum and 10-m momentum, absolute IMTP, and body mass. Ten and forty-meter speed, body mass and fat, prone Yo-Yo, IMTP relative, maximum speed, and countermovement jump contributed to PC2 (34.1%). Significant differences (P < .05, effect size = −1.83) were identified between U18 academy and international backs within PC1. Conclusion: Running momentum, absolute IMTP, and body mass contributed to PC1, while numerous qualities influenced PC2. The physical qualities of academy and international youth RL players are similar, excluding U18 backs. Principal component analysis can reduce the dimensionality of a data set and help identify overall differences between playing levels. Findings suggest that RL practitioners should measure multiple physical qualities when assessing physical performance.

The authors are with the Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) Centre, Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, United Kingdom. McCormack, Jones, Scantlebury, and Collins are also with the England Performance Unit, Rugby Football League, Leeds, United Kingdom. Jones and Till are also with the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club, Leeds, United Kingdom. Jones is also with the School of Science and Technology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, and the Div of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Dept of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, and the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa. Owen is also with Leeds Rhinos Netball, Leeds, United Kingdom.

McCormack (sam.mccormack@leedsbeckett.ac.uk) is corresponding author.
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